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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Genetic parameters for reproductive losses estimated from in-line milk progesterone profiles in Swedish dairy cattle

Gullstrand, Patricia; Strandberg, Erling; Båge, Renee; Christensen, J.M.; Berglund, Britt


This study assessed the extent of reproductive losses and associated genetic parameters in dairy cattle, using in-line milk progesterone records for 14 Swedish herds collected by DeLaval's Herd Navigator. A total of 330,071 progesterone samples were linked to 10,219 inseminations (AI) from 5,238 lactations in 1,457 Swedish Red and 1,847 Swedish Holstein cows. Pregnancy loss traits were defined as early embryonic loss (1–24 d after AI), late embryonic loss (25–41 d after AI), fetal loss (42 d after AI until calving), and total pregnancy loss (from d 1 after AI until calving). The following classical fertility traits were also analyzed: interval from calving to first service, interval from calving to last service, interval between first and last service, calving interval, and number of inseminations per service period. Least squares means with standard error (LSM ± SE), heritabilities, and genetic correlations were estimated in a mixed linear model. Fixed effects included breed, parity (1, 2, ≥3), estrus cycle number when the AI took place, and a linear regression on 305-d milk yield. Herd by year and season of AI, cow, and permanent environmental effect were considered random effects. Extensive (approximately 45%) early embryonic loss was found, but with no difference between the breeds. Swedish Red was superior to Swedish Holstein in the remaining pregnancy loss traits with, respectively: late embryonic loss of 6.1 ± 1.2% compared with 13.3 ± 1.1%, fetal loss of 7.0 ± 1.2% compared with 12.3 ± 1.2%, and total pregnancy loss of 54.4 ± 1.4% compared with 60.6 ± 1.4%. Swedish Red also had shorter calving to first service and calving to last service than Swedish Holstein. Estimated heritability was 0.03, 0.06, and 0.02 for early embryonic, late embryonic, and total pregnancy loss, respectively. Milk yield was moderately genetically correlated with both early and late embryonic loss (0.52 and 0.39, respectively). The pregnancy loss traits were also correlated with several classical fertility traits (−0.46 to 0.92). In conclusion, Swedish Red cows had lower reproductive loss during late embryonic stage, fetal stage, and in total, and better fertility than Swedish Holstein cows. The heritability estimates for pregnancy loss traits were of the same order of magnitude as previously reported for classical fertility traits. These findings could be valuable in work to determine genetic variation in reproductive loss and its potential usefulness as an alternative fertility trait to be considered in genetic or genomic evaluations.


progesterone; pregnancy loss; heritability; genetic correlation

Published in

Journal of Dairy Science
2021, Volume: 104, number: 3, pages: 3231-3239